THE BEST POWER METERS FOR ROAD CYCLING ENTHUSIASTS

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Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot of activity in the cycling power meter world.  Many new small and start-up companies have gotten in while several larger and established ones have completely remade their product lines.  More power meters have been put in new and more compatible and transferable places like pedals and cranks.  New tools have been developed and offered to analyze more and more aspects of your cycling mechanics in addition to your power output.

We’ve also seen the price a cyclist can expect to pay for a power meter drop in half.  New companies have jumped in at the lowest price end often with simpler yet still well performing products trying to attract the larger group of regular, enthusiast level cyclists who would never consider using a power meter before mostly because of its price and elite athlete focus.  Established power meter providers have dropped their prices and offered less featured, lower priced model options to compete.

Since many of us roadies prefer to spend more time riding than reading, I’ll pause the story here and give you my bottom lines.  After that, I’ll tell you in detail what I’ve found should matter (and shouldn’t) to enthusiasts when choosing between power meters, how I chose from over 20 proven ones and which are the best.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Click on any red statement below to go directly to that part of the post. Click the back arrow to return to this list. 

Enthusiasts don’t need the same power meter elite athletes do to reach their goals

Proper training is key to getting value from any power meter

Power meters for enthusiasts need to meet four requirements… more is unnecessary

There are currently over 20 established and proven power meter products

Comparing groups of power meters by location helps come up with a short list to choose from

I recommend two power meters for road cycling enthusiasts

Links to best prices for proven and established power meters    

WHY TRUST THIS SITE AND MY RECOMMENDATIONS

In The Know Cycling is for road cycling enthusiasts like you and me who want to know what gear we should get next and where we can get it at the best prices from great stores.  I do hours of my own testing and analysis on an entire category of cycling gear for each review and incorporate insights from other independent reviewers and riders I respect.  I respond to most any question you have in the comment section of each post, usually within a few hours if I’m not on a long ride or sleeping (Eastern US time).

To eliminate potential bias, I don’t accept ads of any kind and don’t post press releases rewritten as “first look” reviews or articles paid for by bike companies or stores.  I buy or demo and return all the gear I and my fellow testers evaluate, don’t go on company-paid product review trips, and don’t offer or charge for special access to any of the content on this site.  My only influence is what I think would be best for my fellow roadies.  This is my passion, not a business.

The site is supported by a simple and transparent model.  I find and provide you regularly updated links to the lowest priced product listings for the gear I’ve reviewed at online stores that have the highest customer satisfaction ratings among the 100 or so I track.  When you click on and buy something through one of those links, some of the stores (though not all) will pay the site a small commission.  You save time and money while supporting the creation of independent reviews written for road cycling enthusiasts and it doesn’t cost you a thing.  If you prefer to buy your gear at a local bike shop, you can support the site with a contribution here or buy anything through these links to Amazon or eBay.  Thank you.

THE RAPID GROWTH OF NEW POWER METER OPTIONS

There were probably 3 or 4 independently proven, widely available and well supported power meters that had a broad base of user experience to draw from when I started training with power 10 years ago.  There were 6 when I last did a complete review in 2014.

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The number of companies offering proven power meter options has spiked in the last few years

Now, I count 14 companies that are actively selling proven power meters, many with a few different models.  Three of those companies were selling models back in 2014 but they were yet to be proven.  Another three are brand new and have crossed the threshold to proven, widely available and supported status in just a couple years.  Two others were all of that back in 2014 but I didn’t consider them because of their technology.

(When I say proven, I’m not saying good or bad.  It’s just that we now know their level of performance based on independent tests and user experience after enough people and enough time to establish what their performance level has proven to be.)

Four of the 14 companies are also now producing and selling next generation or complementary models that are going through independent testing and first customer evaluation.  Two more companies are at the same stage with their first power meters.  Finally, there are another 9 companies new to the game that have announced but are not yet making their first power meter products.

Whoosh.  What should we make of all this?

Clearly, with so many new, lower priced, fully capable power meters, it’s clear that the power meter companies have turned their attention to a bigger market.  That would be us, my fellow road cycling enthusiasts.  Stages Cycling was one of the first to design a simple power meter for enthusiasts that did everything we needed and was priced like a set of alloy upgrade wheels.  They proved the market was there when they started selling a left crank arm power meter in 2013 and in the next years reportedly surpassed the sales of all the other power meter makers combined.  From there, the rest have rushed in.

Yes, the apparent needs of pro racers, triathletes and trackies, elite amateurs, cycling gear geeks and rich boys wanting ever shinier toys for high spec, high priced power meters are still being served with existing power meters and even one brand new, high-end product dedicated for their use.  But, almost all of the new power meter development and products today are focused on cyclists that have recently answered yes to the question posed in my post Should You Start Training Now With A Power Meter?  While I take no credit, new power meter users made up mostly by enthusiasts, are now driving the sales, product design and capabilities of most currently available, in-testing and recently announced power meters.

Of course, that’s all potentially interesting to you (or not), but the key question really is: How much of all this activity in the power meter world is actually delivering products we enthusiasts should go out and buy and how much is just a lot of smoke without fire?  Put it in cycling terms, how much of all this pedaling is turning into power or just higher cadence? Aghh.  I’m terrible with metaphors but I hope you get my point.

If you are looking for the list of capabilities and features for each power meter, you won’t find it here.  You can get that from the cycling press and the “first-look” reports or buyer’s guides that list all the specs and tell you what they like or don’t about each but won’t help you choose between them.

Instead, I’ll focus in on the results (fire, power) rather than the activity (smoke, cadence), the things you need to know to help you decide between the small handful of power meters that my analysis concludes are best for road cycling enthusiasts.  I’ll also tell you which is the best performer for enthusiasts, which is the best value and which is the best one to buy if you want to expand your power meter for more data later.  This should help you feel both knowledgeable and confident about the power meter you buy.

ENTHUSIASTS AND POWER METERS

If it’s not clear yet, let me make this point abundantly so.  I write and review products for use by road cycling enthusiasts aka regular roadies, the serious, committed cyclists who typically ride 2,000 to 5,000 miles or 3,000 to 7,000 kilometers a year, 4x to 6x/week, through much of the year (inside when not outside), covering all sorts of terrain, at decent speeds (averaging in the high teens mph, high twenties kph and up), and typically do some events including group or club rides, charity events, endurance rides, and the occasional low to mid-level amateur races or other types of ‘competitive’ rides.  We own $2500-$10,000 modern composite bikes and track our performance with bike electronics, apps and software.

While some enthusiasts race, I am not reviewing and recommending power meters in this post that are best for elite level or dedicated amateur road racers and triathletes or riders with coaches.  Nor am I recommending the best power meter models for recreational riders, weekend warriors, cyclocross, gravel or mountain bike riders.  I’m reviewing the same power meters available to riders of all types but my reviews and recommendations are targeted to the training, goals and gear of my fellow road cycling enthusiasts.

Some reviewers will say it’s hard to pick the best power meter, it depends on so many things and that you should fire your reviewer or bike shop for recommending one without you going through some deep situational and budget analysis.  Well, I’m not reviewing or recommending power meters for all stripes of cycling consumers and when it comes to enthusiasts, our needs and situations and spending targets are far more similar than different.

Further, giving you the pros and cons of a dozen or more power meters without putting that information into some relevant decision framework (and I don’t mean an endlessly long spec sheet) to help you pick one is kind of like guiding you up a creek and then taking away your paddle.  You’ll just drift back to the beginning, hit a few underwater obstacles along the way and accomplish little in the process.

Said more simply, you shouldn’t have to go through what one commenter wrote me recently…

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As enthusiasts, we use various “tools” that fuel our passion but don’t overwhelm it to the point of obsession and ruining the fun that is core to our ethos and the consistent riding that keeps us going.  The tools we use – certain types of road bikes, wheelsets, components, clothing, electronics, etc. – are central to help us achieve our goals and keep us curious and informed about how we are doing along the way.

Elite athletes, full-on amateur racers, triathletes, and coached riders are often willing to spend extra (or are sponsored) to get the bleeding edge tools where the performance benefit is incrementally or debatably better than far less expensive gear.  Most enthusiasts are dedicated riders but won’t spend extra money on gear without a tangible and significant performance benefit.  We may occasionally race, measure ourselves against friends in KOMs, train and buy gear to get better but there’s a limit to the time, budget and level of focus that separates us from the elite pro and amateur athletes.  The challenge for us roadies is to separate out the performance reality vs the hype and then decide how much we are willing to pay for each level of real, added performance.

When it comes to power meters, most enthusiasts have held back for years, unwilling to spend $1500-$2500 on a power meter that elite athletes (and their coaches) felt was necessary to get training and performance benefits.  That price range was a non-starter for the regular roadie set, stopping us from crossing the threshold to gain the benefits of training with power.

Once power meters broke through the $1000 barrier and bike computers and training apps were all working in sync, using the same ANT+ communication protocols and displaying the same basic power measurements, those of us who already knew about power meters and their benefits started to jump on board in bigger numbers.  To wit, the rise of Stages and the rush of new power meters and low power meter prices to compete for this new large market.

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The original Stages power meter circa 2013. The product that opened the gates for enthusiasts?

As more power meters get closer to and even below $500 now, more and more enthusiasts are getting curious about them and seriously considering getting one.  From what I’ve seen, there’s still a lot of basic learning and guidance many enthusiasts need about how to train with a power meter to make the purchase of one truly worthwhile, but we’re more open to getting up that learning curve at these price points and realizing the benefits.

So power meters are now on the table for consideration by enthusiasts and we want answers to the same basic questions we ask about other gear, specifically:

  1. How do I evaluate them?

  2. What do I need from them to achieve my goals?

  3. Which are the best for me and my money and why?

I’ll go through each of those questions in the sections that follow

HOW TO EVALUATE POWER METERS

In all my reviews, I evaluate enthusiast cycling gear, and suggest you do too, based primarily on four groups of criteria with more weight placed on Performance and Cost criteria.  Design can contribute to performance but doesn’t determine it.  In the case of power meters, Design is also about usability and features some of which are critical and others unnecessary for enthusiasts.  Quality is first a go/no go consideration for me.  Beyond that it can be a measure of product longevity that affects cost of ownership but not performance.

For power meters, the criteria in each of those categories are as follows:

Performance – Accuracy, consistency, data dependability, functionality, and battery life.

Design – Measurement location(s), compatibility, ease of installation and transferability, interface with cycling computers and measurement software/application, ease of use including start-up, torque zeroing and temperature compensation/calibration, unit weight, firmware update-ability, and communication protocol (ANT+ or Bluetooth or both).

Quality – Product maturity, reliability, dealer/parts/service infrastructure and support, repair service, warranty, service life, and company long term viability.

Cost – Unit purchase cost net of any new or removed computer, cranks, chainrings, wheels or sensors to make the PM functional in your existing or planned bike/wheels/chainset set-up(s), and any maintenance or service costs as measured in your currency, amount of hassle or lost time using your power meter.

WHAT PERFORMANCE AND DESIGN DO ENTHUSIASTS NEED?

I’ve not seen much debate or recommendation about what road cycling enthusiasts really need from power meters.  Coaches will tell you what reports they want to see from your power meter but most enthusiasts don’t have coaches.  That leaves us hanging on the last article we read written by a coach of all levels of athletes or the reporter that quotes a handful of company spokespeople representing a range of views without separating the wheat from the chaff.  Or we try to take some wisdom from the forum writer who bought a power meter and raves about what a great purchase he made.

Worse, many of us analytical types end up scratching our heads trying to figure out what the relative value is of all the product specs and features that companies market the crap out of to set themselves apart but that may or may not matter to us non-elite cyclists.

So, based on the research I’ve done and the experience I and others have had, I’ll put an unvarnished stake in the ground on this topic.  Oh yeah, there’s a lot that went into this stake, but I’ll take you right to it rather than try to impress you with the journey I took to get there.

Proper Training is Key to Getting Value from Power Meters

As enthusiasts, we ride and train to build and maintain certain levels of speed, distance and strength.  We apply these abilities in situations ranging from individual rides where we test ourselves against past times or the performance of others, in group rides to do our turns leading the pace line (or just keep up with a fast group), or in events we do during the year from a century or other distance ride, a road race or criterium, a time trial, an alpine climb, even a vacation with a series of back to back days of different types of riding.

(If you are an enthusiast that prefers just to ride often along a handful of routes on your own and with friends, and you don’t plan to train to any goal or try to improve your performance, that’s totally cool.  Don’t bother getting a power meter, though.  It might give you some interesting information, but it won’t help you ride any better.)

Gone are the days when training meant just going out and riding more times a week or doing more distance or trying to go faster each ride to reach your goals.  That’s not training.  If you were a runner and wanted to sprint faster or do a better half marathon, would you just go out and sprint over and over or run long every day trying to go a little faster than the day before?  Of course not.  It’s the same with cycling.

If you want to make improvements, every day you ride you should be riding with a specific ride plan that is part of weekly, seasonal or perhaps longer term plans and goals.  Some days the plan calls for you ride hard; some days it says you should ride easy.  On your harder days, your plan might call for you to do flat speed intervals or hill repeats or longer stretches or a group ride, each at defined effort levels.

You measure your effort during and at the end of each ride to see how you are doing against your plan and goals and on the path to your longer-term goals.  And the best way to measure your effort is to use a power meter, far better than your heart rate, speed or perceived level of effort.

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A few weeks from a good training plan (that was poorly executed!)

For example, your training plan might call for you to do intervals within a certain watt range that equates to your threshold or zone 4 power level one day.  On another, the plan might be to keep your hill repeats within your VO2/zone 5 effort level.  On your “rest days” the plan might be for you to ride but not let your power reading go above the active recovery/zone 1 or endurance/zone 2 level.  Looking at your bike computer during those efforts, you monitor your watt readings and increase or decrease your effort to keep your power in the zone called out by the plan.

On days when you do group rides or events, you might look at your power during the ride to make sure you are keeping the effort or power reading you’ve been trained to ride at so you don’t blow up or go to easily.  After you finish, you can review some of the key power data for the ride like your Normalized Power (NP), Intensity Factor (IF) and Training Stress Score (TSS) to see your progress overall and tweak your day to day training as appropriate.  More on these terms here.

If this kind of training is new to you or you’ve done some of this but want a complete plan to suit your own fitness targets, upcoming event goals and available time without having to hire a coach to draw a plan up for you, there are a lot of good resources around.

Check out the training plans offered by Training Peaks probably the leading site for training workout measurement and analysis and by Hunter Allen and Joe Friel, two of the leading innovators in cycling training.  Allen and co-author Andy Coggan wrote Training and Racing with a Power Meter which laid the foundation for much of what everyone is doing now with power. Friel wrote The Cyclist’s Training Bible, the original and still the best resource I’ve ever read on endurance training and Fast after 50 for those of you who want to keep improving despite your age.

Today’s Plan, another training and workout analysis site, generates custom plans for you after asking questions about of your goals, strengths, weaknesses and time availability.  If you are planning to ride on a trainer and benefit from video and music to keep you going, the Sufferfest offers a range of training plans that sync up their cycling videos and to several smart trainers that alter your power levels to suit the plan.  For me, this is the only way to go for indoor training.

If you are into Trainer Road or Strava or are a member of British Cycling, all have training program resources you can access though they are more limited than the ones above.

What I will note is that many enthusiasts have a power meter but don’t train to a modern plan or any kind of plan at all.  This renders their power meter a useless and expensive toy.  Others seldom even calibrate their power meter.  This makes it a misleading tool.

Those who pour over power meter specs, debate independent leg vs left leg measurement and choose between units based on various features but don’t train to a plan or regularly calibrate their power meters are really fooling themselves.  Don’t be that guy or girl.

Power Meters for Enthusiasts Need to Meet Four Essential Requirements… More is Unnecessary

For the kind of goals we enthusiasts set and training we should do, your power meter must

1. Provide proven and dependably consistency; the accuracy of your absolute power is less important.

2. Be easy to use and provide the essential data for training that you can access during and after your ride and that you can use without the need for someone else (like a coach) to tell you what to do with.

If you regularly use more than one bike or set of wheels or cranksets, your power meter must

3. Be easy for you (not a mechanic) to quickly transfer or use in whatever combination of bikes, wheels and chain rings you regularly ride.

4. Provide you the same dependable consistency at the same accuracy level and be equally easy to use and access your data no matter what combination of your regular gear you are riding.

That sounds rather straightforward but it’s far from simple for a power meter to pull off.  Based on those requirements, you will see in the sections below that I have eliminated many power meters as I went about determining the best ones for road cycling enthusiasts.  Many of these power meters are new to the market and have not yet met these requirements, something not unusual for power meters.  Others have been available for several years and just haven’t proven to get over the performance hump or aren’t designed to meet the requirements I laid out above.

A power meter’s accuracy in measuring your absolute power is important for sure, but not near as important as the confidence that dependably consistent power meter readings give you and allow you to see the progress you are making.  Said in numbers, it matters less that one power meter reads your power at 240 watts and three others read it at 250 watts than if the first one consistently reads your power at 240 +/- 3 watts for the same level of effort and the other three read it at 250 watts +/-10 watts.

If the power meter you use meets the four requirements I’ve stated above, it is unnecessary to spend more.

It is irrelevant to your training as an enthusiast how many and what type of sensors your power meter has, how it measures the power and whether the power it measures comes from just your left leg, your left and right leg independently, the power created by both legs together or not from your legs at all.  It also hasn’t been shown what value information about your pedal stroke or so called “pedaling mechanics” provides, if any at all.  All this information is extra, potentially interesting but not useful (and potentially harmful) for most enthusiasts in altering your training or achieving your performance goals.  It is what drives the marketing and hype around some power meters these days and many riders and reviewers have fallen for it.  I urge you not to.

Where the power meter is located (shoe, pedal, crank, spider, chain ring, axle, hub, bars, strap) is only relevant to your ability to choose one compatible with your bike(s) and easily and quickly transfer between the set-ups you ride while still providing you essential power data and access to that data.  No location gives you better or more useful information just because it is located there.

If you want to spend your money on added (but not essential or even useful) capabilities or location or measurement preferences, go for it but it’s not going to change your enthusiast training program, how you use your power meter and how well you achieve your performance goals.  Added accuracy, different measurement approaches and locations, and pedaling or stroke mechanics information has debatable value even for elite cyclists now.  Coaches haven’t shown the value and only a few have developed approaches to see if they can use this added capability to improve the training and performance of their elite cyclists.

That may change in the future and let’s hope it does as we’d all like to train smarter and toward higher performance levels.  But after several years of having this added accuracy, independent leg measuring and pedal stroke charting capability, we don’t appear to be any closer to getting any extra value from these additions to help enthusiast level cyclists train to reach their goals.

There may be some benefit of independent leg power measuring to improve your bike fit.  Your fitter will have such a power meter to help him or her fit you if they think that is important.

Of course, that doesn’t stop the debate.  Here’s an article from Cyclist that airs the opinions of several power meter providers and coaches on each side of the debate.  Interesting but clearly not conclusive.  Worried about having an uneven pedaling stroke?  Don’t.  Everyone’s is uneven to some degree but for most it’s minimal and unchanging.  Trying to change your stroke balance may hurt you more than help you.

Worried that you don’t have a good pedal stroke in the first place or that it gets slopyy over the course of a long ride?  You certainly can work on improving your stroke by reading up and practicing the four stroke stages.  The simplest way I’ve found is to periodically put my bike in a trainer and ride with the $12 Sufferfest video called the Elements of Style.  Beyond working on your stroke, it also takes you through how to engage different muscle groups and get your body in optimal position, all of which work together to maximize your power.  As the Brits would say, it’s “brilliant”.

You can also remind yourself while you are out on a ride to keep pedaling with as complete a stroke through those stages as you can using the right body position and muscle groups, especially as you get further into a ride and tend to tire.  But go out and spend twice what you need just to have your power meter tell you to improve your stroke and keep at it as you fatigue through a long ride?  I just told you how to do that and saved you a ton of money.

WHICH POWER METERS ARE THE BEST FOR ROAD CYCLING ENTHUSIASTS?

Now that I’ve set a bar, a required level of performance and design requirements for enthusiast power meter selection, let’s look at what’s available against those requirements.  With so many new power meters out there, I want to make sure that what I buy helps me meet my training and performance goals and doesn’t just have attractive features.

Perhaps because of its combination of mechanical and electronic requirements, power meters seem to be one of the more difficult pieces of cycling gear to get right.  Unfortunately, many haven’t gotten it right.  Some get announced and never introduced.  Some get introduced on a limited basis and never work once in volume production.  Others seem to work at first but flaws develop over time and the companies can’t keep up with the mechanical of electronic improvements needed to keep them viable.

Fortunately, there are independent reviewers and users who are willing to buy into the bleeding edge of technology and report their experience in reviews and the comments that go with them.  Between them, the testers at DC Rainmaker, BikeRadar, Slowtwitch and several bloggers have done us all a great service by doing extensive long-term testing for accuracy and consistency and other aspects of the performance of the power meters I’m trying to help you choose from in this post.

Users also give feedback directly to power meter companies through forums set up to flag issues and product improvements to address them.  Some power meter companies have abused their customer’s goodwill by having the first users of their production volume power meters be paying customers rather than paid or volunteer testers.  So the entries on these forums can be quite brutal as well as honest.

Unfortunately, this way of doing business – selling product that needs more testing before it should be sold – has come to be generally accepted by power meter early adopter customers looking for new products at ever lower prices.  This approach to new product development is not atypical of what you see across the world of high-end electronics products in general and power meters are essentially electronics (or at least electro-mechanical products).

It would be unacceptable for most bike products including electronic shifting systems to come onto the market with the amount of development work that new power meters often need.  Fortunately, a faulty power meter may cause you to kick yourself for buying it but doesn’t itself pose a safety hazard if it doesn’t work on a ride.

Where does that put us as enthusiasts?  If I’m going to put down several hundred to over a thousand dollars, pounds or euros for a product, I want it to work.  Perhaps some readers are willing to ride that early adopter bleeding edge to save some money but I’m not going to recommend you buy a power meter that hasn’t worked out the considerable number of bugs that come with most newly introduced ones.

In the power meter world, that means most products need enough use in a range of conditions in long-term testing across a good number of users willing to provide feedback after it’s in production before it’s sufficiently improved to be ready for most enthusiasts.  This usually translates to a year or two and often the release of a version 2 of the product before you know what you can reliably expect from it.

Recognizing that reality and to sort through all the power meters that are in various stages of their product maturity, I’ve put all the ones I’m aware of into three groups:

A. Established and proven – Power reading accuracy and consistency levels (good or bad) have been established over time and through long-term independent tests and with extensive customer feedback; products have been reliable and durable over time; they are distributed to and supported in the major regions of the world where enthusiasts ride.

  • Pedal – Garmin Vector 2, Favero bePRO, PowerTap P1, Polar/Look Keo Power System
  • Arm – Stages, 4iiii Precision (single), Pioneer Power, Verve Infocrank
  • Spider – SRM, Quarq Elsa and Riken, Power2Max Type S, PowerTap C1
  • Axle – Rotor INPower
  • Hub – PowerTap G3/GS
  • Bar – Velocomp PowerPod
  • Strap – PowerCal

B. Available but not yet proven – Power meters are in production and being sold in at least some major regions, perhaps having good initial reviews, but are not yet proven through independent long-term tests and by users to be accurate, consistent and reliable over time. These include:

  • Pedal – Look KeO Power
  • Arm – 4iiii Precision Pro (dual arm)
  • Spider – Quarq DZero, Power2Max NG
  • Axle – Rotor 2INPower
  • Shoe – RPM2

C. Announced but not currently available – Sounds good, perhaps even look good in initial tests but not currently in production and a proven level of performance has certainly not been established. Some recalled and being reworked after an initial period of production and sales.

  • Pedal – Xpedo, Limits
  • Crank Arm – WatTeam PowerBeat, Team Zwatt
  • Spider – Shimano 9100-P, FSA PowerBox, Team Zwatt
  • Axle – Team Zwatt, Dyno Velo, Ashton Instruments
  • Shoe – Luck

For the rest of this review, I’m going to focus on the “A. Established and Proven” power meters with perhaps a just a few words on those in groups B and C.  I’m not part of the hype machine.  I don’t have any advertisers to satisfy by increasing the number of site clicks with product release announcements and “first looks” nor do I feel the pressure to review any company’s power meter just because they send me one to test or are promoting it in the cycling press.  Life is too short.  I don’t want to steer my fellow enthusiasts to a power meter that hasn’t been proven or that has proven inadequate or over designed for road cycling enthusiasts’ needs.  I’ll add to the A group, update this post and revisit my recommendations once those in the B and C groups are established and proven.

In the “Elimination Rounds”, I’ve picked one power meter from the A group at each bike location that is the most qualified against the enthusiast performance and design requirements and has the lowest cost to move into the “Finals.”  There, I’ve compared these finalists and picked a Best Performer, Best Value and Best Expandable power meter.

ELIMINATION ROUNDS

Pedal Power Meters

In this group of power meters that are integrated into one or both pedals, the Garmin Vector 2, Favero bePRO and PowerTap P1 are established and have proven what they can do.  The Polar/Look Keo has as well but only works with Bluetooth bike computers and watches so I’ve effectively eliminated it as ANT+ is the overwhelmingly dominant sensor and computer protocol for cyclists.  The Look KeO is a significantly revamped but not yet proven successor to the Polar/Look.  Xpedo and Limits have announced pedal power meters but they are not available.

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Garmin Vector 2 – Favero bePRO – PowerTap P1

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Polar-Look Keo Power System and Look KEO Power Dual Mode…. separated a couple years after birth….

At first glance, the advantage of buying a power meters that is integrated into your pedals appears to be their broad compatibility and easy installation and transferability from one bike to another.  The opportunity to expand them from single to dual sided power measurement also looks attractive if or once any true training or performance value is found for enthusiasts (or even elite athletes) from having independent leg power data.

On a cost basis, the left pedal power meter models are generally competitive with most of the established and proven left crank arm based power meters.  Their dual pedal versions are generally more expensive than power meters that measure overall power.

However, the Garmin, Favero and PowerTap pedal power meters each have drawbacks which seem to cancel out some of their perceived advantages.

The Garmin Vector 2, despite being a second generation model with numerous firmware updates, still has performance flaws and design disadvantages.  Against other power meters, testers have found it overreads power in certain interval and sprint situations and is susceptible to dropouts for no specific reason.  It also needs about ten minutes to acclimatize to any temperature differences between your house and outside before you should do a calibration.

While Garmin’s warranty and customer service are reportedly very good and they do regular firmware updates, a product like the Vector 2 that’s been in production a couple years longer than the bePRO or P1 shouldn’t still be having these kinds of problems.  And you shouldn’t have to deal with them or question the readings you are getting.

Installing the Vector 2 right requires using a long, heavy torque wrench to set it to the 40 newton meter specification.  All in, it requires at least ten minutes to install and calibrate it, which makes it less transferable than other pedal and crank arm power meters, and once you do get it set up, the data is both overwhelming and not always confidence inducing.

The Favero bePRO takes several rides (2-4) once installed to start reading consistently from ride to ride.  While this may be acceptable if you only ride one bike, this essentially throws the transferability benefit out the window if you want dependably consistent power meter readings over a typical 3- to 4-week training period when you plan to ride more than one bike.  The PowerTap pedals read consistently from the first pedal stroke after transfer and normal static calibration.

The bePRO, while easier to install or transfer (5-10 mins, stickers, pedal wrench) than the Vector 2 takes a bit of early ride maneuvering to calibrate.  This includes doing several things mid-ride like pedaling backwards 10 times, pedaling at 80rpm for 30 seconds, and doing hard sprints to complete the calibration.  This is certainly not “plug and play” or a “click-in and ride” cycling equivalent.

Even after the power readings become stable from ride to ride with the bePRO, you still want to do this “dynamic recalibration” to make sure the measuring pods that sit between the pedal and crank arm are in position and calibrated.

Of course, you want to calibrate nearly every power meter before each ride regardless of the type of you are using.  If you don’t, there’s no guarantee that it will read consistently with the last time you calibrated.

Calibration is an easy process for most power meters.  You turn on your head unit, wake up the power meter by moving whatever it’s attached to, move the pedal or crank power meters into the prescribed horizontal or vertical position and push the calibrate button on your head unit when it asks you to.  Within a few seconds the calibration is done and off you go on your ride.

Most power meters also have sensors that automatically adjust for temperature changes, avoiding the need to calibrate again during the ride.

Notably, this is how the P1 works.  The PowerTap P1 pedals are also as easy and quick to install as pedals that don’t have a power meter built into them.  Use a common hex wrench and in about 2 minutes you’re done.  Testing has also shown the P1 to provide dependably consistent readings from bike to bike on the first ride and every following ride.

You might want to re-read the last two sentences because what PowerTap has accomplished is no mean feat (or per the Wiktionary “a laudable triumph over great difficulty”) when compared to all the other established and proven, available and but not proven, and not yet available pedal power meters.

If you ride or plan to keep your power meter pedals on just one bike, the transferability issues with the Vector 2 and bePRO are irrelevant.

While the P1 also had some issues initially, firmware upgrades have straightened those out and it, along with the bePRO now show power readings, again based on testing, to be accurate and consistent within the same +/- range of most good power meters.

The P1 and bePRO are similarly accurate and consistent when calibrated but you should do a mid-ride “dynamic calibration” with the bePRO in addition to the initial static calibration to keep it consistent.  The P1 only requires a static calibration.

At 30 hours between charges, the bePRO also has about half to a third the battery life of the P1, increasing the chance your power meter can go dead out on the road.  If that happens with a P1, you can simply replace it with a AAA battery you can put with your spare tube.  The bePRO needs to be plugged into a mini-USB.

Based on my performance and design criteria then, the P1 looks to be the best of the established pedal power meters.  It is also, however the heaviest and most expensive of the power pedals.

For most enthusiasts, I don’t think the weight disadvantage of the P1 relative to the other two is worth losing sleep over.  But so you know, the dual side measuring P1 power meter weighs about 125 grams more than the dual bePRO models and 62 grams or half that for their single side models.

While the prices fluctuate and discounts are often available, the retail price of the dual P1 is about USD$386/£467/€400 more than the dual bePRO and the P1S (for single) is priced at USD$151/£284/€250 more than the bePRO S.  Looks like they are charging you a premium for the advantages they have over other pedal power meters.

For those of you still interested in the Vector 2, it’s priced about halfway between the P1 and bePRO for both its single and dual models.

If you think this makes the bePRO an outright winner for the #NeverTransfer enthusiast, I will note there are established power meters that measure total power in other locations that are just if not more cost competitive than the bePRO and those that measure based on one side that are less expensive than the bePRO S.  And since prices continue to drop, I’d err on the side of picking the power meter within a category or across all categories based on how well they do against the requirements I’ve outlined and go with the less expensive model that performs similarly well against those demands.  I’ll do that comparison once the best from each category are selected.

If you are buying a pedal power meter in the first place, you are likely doing so because of its easy transferability and, perhaps because of its expandability from single to dual sided measurement.  So while the bePRO S is less expensive, I’d spend a few bucks more to go with the P1S and its first-ride-after-transfer consistency and easier calibration on every ride and set-up.  You can’t expand from the P1S with addition of a right pedal yet, but I’m told that PowerTap is working on this.

There are also a few design factors that for the PowerTap over the bePRO for the enthusiast on the edge of becoming an elite athlete.  The PowerTap can be ordered with 0-degree float cleats (6 degree is standard), compensate for oval chain rings, measure pedal mechanics (but doesn’t transmit it – a firmware update can make this happen).  While the PowerTap is clunkier on the lower half of the pedal it also doesn’t get marked up as badly as the bePRO.  And the bePRO doesn’t work real well with my recommended Specialized S-Works shoes without some extra shimming.

Based on all of this, I’m going to put P1S forward into the playoffs against the best power meters from the other location categories.

A potential downside for both the P1 and bePRO is that they both use Look KeO pedals.  If you are wedded to Shimano SPD or Speedplay cleats, you have to divorce those.  You can get the Garmin Vector 2 with Shimano SPD pedals as an upgrade but I don’t recommend this power meter as it is not dependably consistent.

While I don’t see great difference or difficulty for SPD users to switch to KeO pedals, if you use Speedplay pedals either for performance or fit reasons, it may be the thing that stops you from buying a pedal based power meter.

Arm Power Meters

This category has power meters attached to the left (“single”) or both (“dual”) crank arms.  Stages and 4iiii both have established and proven single arm power meters.  Pioneer have done it with both single and dual crank arm models.  4iiii has recently begun shipping a dual sided version that will need some time to run through independent and user tests to prove out its performance level.

stages-4iiii-array

Stages and 4iiii single side crank arm power meters

Unlike those three companies that attach their power meter hardware to some cranks or cranksets made by Shimano, SRAM and a few of the other makers, Verve’s Infocrank has its strain gages built into both crankarms of a complete crankset built for it by Praxis for compact and semi-compact combination rings and TA for standard ones.

pioneer-info-crank-array

Pioneer and Infocrank dual side crank arm power meters

WatTeam and Team Zwatt have announced crank arm power meters but are not currently shipping.  WatTeam had begun shipping its PowerBeat power meters that the user attached to one or both crank arms but stopped after accuracy problems were reported when their power meters were in the field.  Team Zwatt has also announced but is not yet shipping separate power meters that go on the crankset spider and in the axle between the crank arms in addition to those that go on the left crank arm.

Following the lead and hoping to enjoy the same success of Stages Cycling, most of these companies are trying to provide the lowest cost power meters on the market ranging from 400 to a little over 600 US dollars, pounds or euros for the single sided version Ultegra level models.  From there, however, company approaches diverge quite markedly.

Stages remains committed to single arm power meters.  They’ve concluding that their single arm unit offers all the essential power measurement data needed for training and does so more simply and at a lower price than the dual or total power measuring units that offer little if any added benefit.  This really speaks to our core belief as enthusiasts – works great, costs less – and is probably why Stages has been so instrumental in growing the whole power meter market and causing others to introduce single sided arm and pedal models and everyone else to lower their prices on nearly all models regardless of their location or design.

I’ve written earlier in this post and others that probably everyone has some small amount of power imbalance between legs and that it’s likely small, often no more than a couple percent.  Interestingly, this amount is near the measurement error of power meters, for example 49% power coming from your left leg and 51% from the right on power meters that claim measurement accuracy of +/- 2.0%.  Further, few if any coaches believe they know, and I’m not aware of any that have proven the benefit of better balancing your power or that doing so would lead to higher power output.

Regardless, 4iiii sells a single sided power meter called Precision and a dual leg measuring one called the Precision Pro.  4iiii’s product naming even seems to say that the single sided model is precise and that their dual sided ones are for those of us who think we is pros!  Then again Favero names both their single and dual side measuring power meters “bePRO” adding only an S to the single sided one so maybe they consider everyone who uses their power meter a pro!

I write this all in jest but I hope you see the challenge here of power meter companies trying to sell the equivalent of ‘good, better’ when good is fine for enthusiasts.

The Precision and Stages single sided power meters have proven every bit as accurate and consistent in a wide variety of situations as the long established SRM, PowerTap hub, and Quarq benchmarks they’ve been tested against by independent reviewers.  Those last three have been used by the pros for years but the 4iiii and Stages are now used by pro riders as well, albeit nearly all under sponsorship agreements.

For the time being, at USD$500/£429/€515 for Shimano Ultegra model, Precision has Stages beat on their respective full retails prices by USD$59/£117/€110.  Stages does offer a considerably wider range of crank arm models (here) than 4iiii, which is limited to Shimano.

If you send Precision your own left crank arm however, they’ll mount their power meter on it for USD$400/£320/€378/AUD$542 with about a 2-week turnaround time in the US (likely longer when you send from outside the US).  They can install their power meter on your left crank for a few popular alloy arms beyond Shimano.  You can see the list here.

Stages does have automated temperature compensation built into their power meter while 4iiii builds theirs to work across a 50C temperature range.  Of course, both should be calibrated every day at the beginning of a ride.

The Precision Pro (dual) accuracy and consistency performance hasn’t yet been proven.  If you are planning to buy the single Precision now and upgrade to the Pro later, you might want to hold off until the Pro is proven out.  It took 4iiii several tries to get their single arm performance level right as it does most every power meter company regardless of measurement location.  Just because they got the single figured out doesn’t mean they are going to get the dual version performance down.  Also, the price of adding a power meter to your left crank now and your right later puts you at $1000 if you have 4iiii install it (more if you buy the cranks from them) and there may be some better choices if you want to get into stroke mechanics that the Pro doesn’t currently offer.

Pioneer’s crank arm power meters are all about the data and analytics.  While they offer separate proven single and dual side measuring power meter models, what they are really selling is the ability to analyze what more than a few testers have called an “overwhelming” amount of data.

And while their prices for the single and dual side power meters are competitive with the Stages single and 4iiii dual meters respectively, you don’t get the benefit of Pioneer’s higher sampling rates and interesting pedal diagrams and metrics without also buying their head unit (kaching!).  That unit doesn’t do as good a job of GPS navigation as the more commonly used Garmins and if you stay with your Garmin, you can’t see even the most basic info that comes with dual measuring meters like pedal smoothness and torque effectiveness, not that you’d know what to do with it.

If someone ever proves the value for the kind of analytics that the Pioneer’s and Garmin’s dueling-different-data-dual power meters can provide, Pioneer might have a fighting chance.  For now however, they are offering something quite interesting but of little proven benefit that requires a bike computer/head unit platform which competes against one (Garmin) that dominates if not quite owns the market.  That’s the power meter equivalent of an early breakaway that’s probably not going to stay away all the way to the finish line.

The Verve Infocrank claims the best accuracy of any power meter available (+/-1%), does independent leg power measurement, requires no pre-ride zero offset calibration and has automatic temperature compensation.  Those are all “nice-to-haves” but at $1400, £1150 and forced to change out your Shimano, SRAM or Campy crankset for a Praxis or TA that you may feel isn’t of the same caliber, and require installation of new crankset specific bottom brackets in whatever bike(s) you want to use, and is powered by a non-standard battery… well as you can probably tell, it’s not one I am getting excited about.

If you have a couple of bikes that you’ll actively be riding and wanting to transfer your power meter between, there are a couple of things to consider with crank arm power meters.  A single arm version is nearly but not quite as simple and quick to change as the PowerTap P1 or bePRO pedal power meters.  If you have a dual sided crank arm meter, you’ll need to transfer the crankset (aka chainset) on which the right or drive side crank is attached to along with the left side one.  Again, not difficult but a little more time and a little bit dirtier with bottom bracket lube you’ll want to take the opportunity to put in and the chain grease that you’ll want to avoid.

I linked you to a video of how to change the P1 pedals in the section above.  Here’s one on how to a left crank and an entire crankset for your edification and amusement.  As an enthusiast with no shop wrenching experience and indeed never having changed a pedal, crank or crankset before getting my first power meters, I can assure you this is all quite doable in short order.

It is also wise, and I’d highly recommend this, to use a small torque wrench when fastening your left crank.  This assures you don’t over- or under-tighten your crank and, equally importantly, that it doesn’t move around on you and mess with your calibration.  This is the downfall of the bePRO pedal power meter that take a few rides to “settle in” and provide consistent readings.  Crank arm power meters don’t take several rides once installed or transferred to read consistently.

And unlike the huge (and expensive) 40NM torque wrench you need to tighten a Vector 2, most cranks need less than 15NM (clearly noted on the crank arm) and this uses a much smaller, very portable and inexpensive wrench like this one available from Wiggle.

torque-wrench-from-wiggle

Of this group of crank arm power meters, the 4iiii Precision is the best value solution and offers similar performance to Stages.  As long as they can install the power meter on your crank arm (see the list here) it’s a good choice.  If not, the Stages is equally good if a tad more expensive.  The Pioneer has much more data and the Verve has much more accuracy than we enthusiasts need to train up with power without offering more valuable or better performance levels.

Spider Power Meters

Spider power meters, located in the crankset (aka chainset) between the crank arms to the large chain ring, are undergoing perhaps the greatest amount of product and price changes just to remain competitive with pedal and cranks arm meters.

quarq-array

Between the Riken, Elsa R and Elsa RS models, the Quarq power meter line works with a wide range of 10 and 11 speed compact and standard crankset and bottom bracket designs including Shimano groupsets

Quarq and Power2Max are transitioning to new lines of power meters, introducing them at the 2016 end-of-summer trade shows and making them available in the fall and through the winter.  Quarq is no longer making its established and proven Elsa and Riken power meters though they will likely be available from dealer stock for some time.  Power2Max continue to offer the established and proven Type S through their direct online only channel and, if they follow the same strategy they did when they introduced the Type S, will continue to sell them until all are sold old.

p2m-type-s

Power2max’s Type S line come with or without cranks with a range of Rotor, S-Works, Cannondale, SRAM, FSA and Campagnolo but not Shimano cranksets

It will also take some time for the new Quarq DZero and Power2Max NG power meters to be tested by independent reviewers and customer users, for feedback to come in and any hardware improvements, firmware updates and the like to be incorporated.

PowerTap, already a long time established and proven power meter provider with its units located in the hub, apparently decided to cover its bets by offering pedal and chainring power meters starting in 2015.  And Shimano (you’ve heard of them I assume) announced but won’t start shipping their first power meters, also located at the spider, until the spring of 2017.

Unlike some of the new companies announcing or selling power meters located in pedals or cranks, it’s hopefully safe to say that new products from Quarq, Power2Max, PowerTap and Shimano will all figure it out judging from their past success in this product category or, in the case of Shimano, from their success with the electro-mechanical Di2 shifting and most every other category they have historically entered.

srm

SRM sells their power meter spider built into complete cranksets for most of the top tier groupsets

SRM, historically the gold standard and benchmark reference of power meter performers now requires about 2/3rds the gold of just a few years ago to acquire one, as in 2000+ US dollars, pounds or euros.  It hasn’t fundamentally or even incrementally changed over the years and now offers no more performance and, in some cases, less capability than others lacking SRM’s brand cache.  It’s debatable whether they are the standard for accuracy or consistency anymore and they certainly lack some of the capabilities elite athletes and their coaches are looking for these days.

FSA will have a power meter supplied by Power2Max integrated into their new chainsets and complete groupsets that will first be available on 2017 model bikes.  And Team Zwatt has also announced its intention to sell a power meter with a chainset spider location.  No sign of it yet in the market.

So, again, lots going on here.  Currently however, only the SRM, PowerTap C1, Quarq Elsa and Riken, and Power2Max Type S are established and proven with the Quarq and Power2Max lines switching over to units that aren’t yet proven.  I’ll update this post as those and hopefully other spider-located power meters go into production and their level of performance is proven.

Let’s see if we can come up with a winner for enthusiasts at the spider location from these four and their likely successors in the cases of Quarq and Power2Max

First, cost.  As mentioned above, the SRM is expensive and 2 to 3x the price of the other proven meters.  SRM’s cost has always been a reason for enthusiasts to not even think about buying one and continues to be.  Out.

powertap-c1

The PowerTap C1 power meter attaches to included chainrings but that aren’t compatible with most current crankset lines

While we’re doing quick eliminations, I want to take a pause from comparing costs to rule out another contender.  The PowerTap C1, which actually comes attached to the big ring in a two-ring crankset that is part of what you get when you buy the power meter, attaches only to 5-bolt cranksets.

Translation?  They don’t work with today’s modern Shimano and SRAM cranksets which both have 4 bolt holes to attach the rings to the crankset spikder.  So the C1 doesn’t work with Shimano DA 9000 and 7800, Ultegra 6800, 105 5800, SRAM Red 22, Force 22, Rival 22, Cannondale Hollowgram, Specialized S-Works, anything from Campy, and a bunch of modern FSA groupsets.  Here’s the complete list of what the C1 is compatible and incompatible with.  Oh, and the C1 doesn’t work with true 50/34 5-bolt compact sets either because of where the power reading pod sits on the ring.  You can do a 50/36 however.

If you have older sets, and we’re talking about sets that were sold before 2014 or 2013 in some cases, you may be in luck.  There are likely still far more older, 5-bolt sets on the road today than there are newer, 4-bolt ones.  But then, my guess is that if you have one of those older sets, many of which are for 10 speed gruppos, you probably aren’t in the market for a power meter.  Even Stages, which opened the door for enthusiasts to afford cranksets, no longer makes crank arms for 10 speed cranksets.

Therefore, I’m going to rule out the PowerTap C1 as largely incompatible with the cranksets most enthusiasts who would want a power meter will have on their bikes. PowerTap may have been trying out the crankset segment of the market and, if successful, come back with a C1’ or C2 that is compatible with current generation groupsets.  Or, they may have gone after a solution that could serve the bigger installed base of cyclists with 5-bolt cranksets thinking that those riders on older cranksets would be as open to training with power as would enthusiasts with newer, 4-bolt cranks at their feet.

I may be wrong on these alternative rationales for their decision to go after 5-bolt enthusiasts and by excluding them from further consideration against others in the category.  I’m just trying to come up with an explanation for why they did something that seems unlikely to succeed.  Time will tell.

This leaves us with the Quarq and Power2Max power meters which are both going through the product line changes I mentioned early.

There’s not a lot of performance, design or cost difference between the still available Quarq Riken and Power2Max Type S power meters.  They both fall in the 600-800 US$/£/€ range for alloy power meter spiders sold without rings.  Quarq also sells the more expensive but identically performing Elsa models that work with modern Shimano and SRAM cranksets.  I’m not going to get all granular about pricing here since there’s a myriad of options and both companies are coming in with new lines at diverging prices.

Both the Quarq and Power2max meters measure your total power rather than one side or each side as with the pedal and crank based power meters.  Instead, Quarq and P2M use different algorithms to estimate your left and right leg power, with some reviewers saying they mirror true independent leg measuring power meters in side by side tests while others say they don’t.

Again, I don’t think this measuring approach is useful to enthusiasts unless you buy into industry hype, you are interested in torturing yourself with useless data or you are soon to become an elite athlete.  I’m all for those of you in the third category!

All the spider power meters save for the PowerTap C1 basically install to your crankset and rings and all including the C1 transfer between bikes essentially the same way.  They are a good bit more time consuming and demanding of tools to install than the crank arm power meters but transfer between bikes the same way as a dual sided crank arm power meter.  See the video in that section to see how.

If you want to use different size rings on the crankset for a specific event where a different ratio would be better suited, you can certainly do that much the same way you would normally change rings.  If you move the entire crankset with the power meter already installed to another bike, you’ll need to have the same model bottom bracket installed on any bike where you want to use that crankset.  All of this may drive some of you to your bike shop with your bike(s) for some help in getting everything set up.

The outgoing Quarq Riken and Elsa models have different numbers of bolt holes (see photos above), bolt circle diameters (to more easily accommodate compact cranksets) and bottom bracket compatibility.  Most come with arms (either alloy or carbon) and some are available with just the spider itself.  It was Quarq’s attempt to provide a wide range of compatibility options in the muddle of today’s cranksets, bottom brackets, and competitive offerings.

The new Quarq DZero power meter will simplify this somewhat, add a few improved capabilities (geek-out level stuff), a wider range of compatibility and run in the same price range as the outgoing Quarq Riken and Elsas.

Using the popular Shimano Dura Ace or Ultegra 11 speed crank sets as reference points, you will be looking at a list price of US$779/£693/€779 for the DZero spider without arms.

Power2Max’s new NG line has announced prices that will be far more expensive than the Type S they will be replacing and the DZero.  While only the €990 starting price has been announced, that’s a considerable jump from the €690 price the Type S started at.  This makes the NG considerably less attractive than the DZero.

But then again, neither of these have been independently test and used by the first group of paying customers.  Also, prices are an ever-changing thing.  At this point though it looks like the NG will start at a distinct price disadvantage.  They may be pricing it this way this to clean out and avoid cannibalizing the inventory of Type S meters and then drop their prices to competitive levels once the old models are gone.

Power2Max has added capabilities to the new NG – +/-1%, rechargeable USB connected batteries, Bluetooth, added pedaling metrics – but these “next generation” power meters (as is the case with the Type S) are not compatible with Shimano cranksets the same way the Type S line wasn’t.  You can replace your Dura Ace or Ultegra cranksets with complete ones from FSA, Rotor, SRAM and others, but that adds to the cost of using a Power2Max crankset even if you can resell your Shimano set.  Many may also find mixing the brands or using a crankset that may not perform at the same level as their Shimano to be less desirable.  And since most enthusiasts, and most cyclists for that matter, use Shimano as a practical matter that makes the Power2Max attractive to a smaller audience.

For cost and compatibility reasons, seeing little difference in performance and their ability to meet the four essential requirements, I’m recommending the current Quarq Riken and Els as the best option among the spider category of power meters.

Power Meters in Other Locations

Beyond the pedal, crank arm and crank spider, there are several other less common locations to place power meters today.  These include those located as part of the rear wheel hub, the axle running between the left and right crank arms, inside the shoes or in the cleats that attach to the shoes, or on the handlebars.

Hubs

PowerTap was one of the first to offer an alternative to SRM’s original crank spider unit, developing and successfully selling a power meter as part of a rear hub.  This was and remains a low cost and popular alternative especially for those who plan to use one wheelset or have wheelsets built to their own specification.

When the first PowerTap hubs came to market, buying custom built wheels was a common if waning practice.  Now it appears even less common, especially as most of the best performing carbon rims you find in wheelsets designed and built to a standard by companies are not typically available to the many small shops that build custom wheels.

Powertap G3 products

PowerTap G3 hub power meter

For several years, PowerTap have had agreements with Zipp, ENVE and HED to have some large custom wheel makers build selected models of their wheels with PowerTap hubs.  This usually adds only a couple hundred $/£/€ premium to the price of the wheels compared to buying the complete branded wheelset with the standard hub.

PowerTap rim brake and disc brake wheel hubs continue to be a good option for enthusiasts if you want to train with power and plan to use only one set of wheels, especially if you want a Zipp, ENVE or HED, or if you want that one wheelset to be a custom built one.

If, as with some enthusiasts, you plan to use different wheels and want to train with power all the time, a power meter in the hub doesn’t work as it is not transferrable between wheels.  You could always buy you extra wheelsets with PowerTap hubs, but that isn’t a transferable solution.

While most enthusiasts primarily use the one set of wheels, many have a second pair they might use in the winter or for specific climbing or speed events or a set they’ve upgraded from but still might want to have available to use from time to time.  Others don’t want to be limited to the Zipp, ENVE or HED available models or prefer wheels whose rims aren’t available to custom wheel makers, or want standard-built wheels supported by larger companies.

If you have multiple bikes but plan to use the same wheelset on them, there really is no simpler and quicker transfer solution.  You just move the wheels and the power meter comes with it.  I think it’s more likely, given the cost of bikes these days and the increased versatility that a good one offers, that you will have a second set of wheels than you will a second bike with just one set of wheels you use between them.

Your second bike may also be for such a different purpose (cyclocross, gravel, aero, disc brake, winter riding) that you would also use a second set of wheels consistent with that purpose.  But unlike some of the pedal and arm power meters that can quickly and easily transfer between bikes and for which changing wheels doesn’t affect them, a power meter that’s part of a single wheel seems to provide you far fewer options to keep training with power in different set ups you might use as an enthusiast.

You can move your PowerTap hub from the wheelset you own to the one you are upgrading to if, as with your first set, you choose an upgrade wheelset that a custom-wheelbuilder can build your hub around.  This is more like “move-ability” in the way you might move your box spring and mattress from your current apartment to your next one.  Transferability on the other hand, to continue with this perhaps uncomfortably close-to-home metaphor, might be more like bringing an air mattress with you as you crash at one friend’s place after another while you are between apartments.

There remain several companies that make alloy rims, some that are quite modern in width and profile and are commonly used by wheel builders.  Separately sold carbon rims are less common from the branded wheelset makers but are plentiful from less know Chinese manufacturers.  Spokes, fortunately, are not an issue.  Most are made by a small number of companies and are sold to both custom and standard-built wheelmakers alike.

Some have also found the custom-built wheels with Zipp and ENVE rims built around PowerTap hubs to be less stiff than those built by Zipp and ENVE with their own or subcontracted hubs (like the DT Swiss 240).  As stiffness is a key to effectively transferring power and responding well during climbing, sprinting, accelerating and handling, this is a knock against the PowerTap hub as a hub rather than as a power meter, especially for heavier riders.

The design and performance of the best hubs used by enthusiasts is advancing thanks to wider flange spacing, taller flanges, and hub engagement mechanisms that create less freewheeling resistance.  I don’t know that the PowerTap hubs are keeping up with these developments.

Because of the PowerTap hub’s lack of transferability for people who use more than one set of wheels, its limited wheel choice and hub stiffness considerations, there are probably a limited number of enthusiasts this power meter will work for and that group is likely getting smaller.  But, if you are one without those concerns, this hub will be a low cost, strong performing option.  For these reasons and despite its limitations, let’s keep this hub power meter in the competition.

While I can only guess, it looks like PowerTap realized the customer base for their power meter hub is also getting smaller.  They have introduced pedal and crankset power meters that will reach customers for whom the hub can’t – those that use more than one wheelset or those that prefer the growing number and range of standard-build wheelsets.  You’ll also notice that of all the other companies in the power meter market, none have developed one for the hub.

Axles

There are currently four companies making or planning to make power meters in the axle that runs between your crank arms.  Rotor sells the proven INPower single side measuring power meter and they more recently began selling the as yet unproven 2INPower which, as the name suggests, measures each side.

Ashton and Dyno Velo have announced but are not yet producing power meters they also plan to locate in the axle.  And, Team Zwatt pops up in this spot with its third concept power meter.  Indeed, all three of these are not more than concepts now and aren’t worth further comment.

Let’s look at the Rotor INPower a bit more.  It’s accurate, consistent, has good battery life (200hrs, AA battery) and transfers the same as any other power meter where you are switching over the entire crankset from one bike to other.   The INPower is compatible with bikes that use a Universal Bottom Bracket (UBB), which most do.

rotor-inpower-array

Rotor sells the single sided measuring INPower in various forms depending on what Rotor crankset components you already have

It also puts the extra weight of the power meter in the center of the bike (axle) rather than on one side like the spider, single side or single side crank arm units do.  Crank arm power meters from Stages and 4iiii add 20 grams or less to the left side so it makes no difference.  Single side pedals add from 20 grams (bePRO S) to 80 grams (PowerTap P1S).  Spider power meters are the heaviest of the three types but that weight is closer to the center of the bike.  I don’t really know how big a deal this is to have slightly more weight on one side or the other.  I’ve never talked to a bike fitter about this or seen a tester or user mention it.  If you have some expertise on this, please share it in the comment section below.

On the downside is the INPower’s cost which starts at $779/£499/€649 for the lowest priced of their three models.  This is more than the other single sided power meter options.  You also need to have or be willing to switch to Rotor cranks and chainset.  If you are a fan of Rotor’s oval or “Q-Rings”, this is one of the only power meters that measures them well (PowerTap pedals do also).  Sometimes I think this is really about Rotor trying to get more revenue from its captive chainset market or perhaps expand it somewhat rather than the company making a play to enter the rapidly growing market of power meters for enthusiasts.

The dual sided Rotor 2INPower isn’t proven yet.  And it’s no cinch that because the IN proved out accurate and consistent that the 2IN will as well.  Further, if you want to get more power data at a later time, it’s not a matter of simply upgrading from the IN single to the 2IN dual sided unit either.  You need an axle power meter that tests the twisting coming from both sides for the 2IN so it’s a totally different unit.  The 2IN is only sold as complete unit – both arms, spider and axle – so if you bought it, you wouldn’t use any of the IN you previously purchased.  The 2IN is also more expensive than most other dual sided, independent leg systems.  So the 2IN looks like it might be out even before it’s in.

Shoes and Cleats

Power meters placed in your cycling shoes or cleats would be closest to the source of your leg power and the ultimate in transferability.  Unfortunately, they are not ready for prime time yet.

RP2M has introduced one for cyclists that is part of your insole.  It was originally developed for runners but it hasn’t been tested by any independent cycling reviewer I’m aware of.  It’s available (barely) but not yet proven.

Image result for Luck Shoe POWER METER

Luck Shoe power meter concept. Maxwell Smart would have loved this!

The Luck cycling shoe company has been talking about a power that would also go in the outsole of their shoes for a couple years now but it hasn’t been made available yet.  Cool idea but, of course, you’d have to like the shoes as well.

Brim Brothers stopped chasing their dream in the Fall of 2016 after working many years from initial concept to taking orders for a power meter built into Speedplay cleats attached to the bottom of your shoe.  After claiming to prove out their design through several rounds of prototypes, they raised money through Kickstarter for their first production run but couldn’t get many working units coming off the line.  The money ran out with no fix to the problems or investors in sight.

This is perhaps just the latest story of a power meter concept that creates good press (and raises a fair bit of money) but never makes it to the market.  Shame.  Would have been great.

Bars

While all the power meters I’ve reviewed up to now measure the force your legs apply through one or multiple strain gauges in components that are linked to them, there are three power meters have no direct interaction at all with those same legs.

The Velocomp PowerPod calculates power after measuring your acceleration, wind resistance, elevation speed and a few other environmental factors.  It’s light (65 grams all in), a little larger than the size of a deck of playing cards, and hangs down from your handlebars using a GoPro style connector.  It is therefore simple to transfer; put it in the same place and at the same angle on each bike you use.   It connects to your bike computer via ANT+, lasts about 20 hours and recharges with USB connector.

powerpod-array

The PowerPod mounts under your handlebars

It doesn’t have speed or cadence sensors built into it but, to calculate power, it needs to read that data from any ANT+ ones you have mounted on your bike.

Oh, and it only costs $299.  Yeah.

Sounds appealing, right.  How does it perform?

If you do the initial calibration ride right, then it is in the range of accuracy and consistency of any other any +/-2% or better unit if you stay on the road and don’t change your position on the bike much during a ride.  You only need to do the calibration ride once when you first install or transfer it to any bike (or if you change your head unit) and it takes maybe five minutes of clear road to do it.  Also, if you take it off your bike to charge it, you’ll get inaccurate data the first few minutes of a new ride so it’s be best to charge it on the bike.

It can get a little a little erratic if you are riding on very bumpy on-road situations (like cobbles) or off-road ones. Remember, this review is for road cycling enthusiasts.

Using the PowerPod does become problematic if you change your position on the bike a lot.  The PowerPod assumes an unchanging drag coefficient for each rider based on your height, weight, and your position on the bike when you do your initial calibration ride.  The effect of this is that your power readings will increase about 6% above what you would read with a direct force power meter whenever you get into an aero position .

If you don’t change your position much this won’t be an issue.  However, if you go in and out of aero positions or sit up from time to time or get out of the saddle when you climb, you will get a distorted picture of your power output.  If you had a PowerPod and a direct force power meter each with their own head unit on your bike, you could calculate the benefit of getting into differ positions but I’ll save you a lot of time and money simply by saying your power will reading will increase (and your drag will be reduced) about 5-10% when you get aero.

[If you’re really interested in the effect of aero position on your speed and want to reduce your drag by as much as 11% to 14% in positions that every enthusiasts can adopt during a ride, I wrote a whole section describing the quantitative benefits of different aero positions in my post How To Ride Faster On Your Bike: 10 Better Ways – Training and Technique.]

For me, a 5% or greater level of power meter reading variation depending on my position on the bike is a disqualifying factor, especially when you can get true readings from a power meter that costs just a $100 to $200 more.   Further you’ll never get consistent readings from ride to ride as you positions will likely vary throughout the same course and certainly as you ride different courses.

The Powerpod is the equivalent of activity trackers like the Fitbit or Vivosmart.  Novel but not accurate and certainly not producing data you should base your training on.  So these are out

Strap

Lastly there’s the Powercal, a heart rate strap that estimates your power output by comparing changes in your heart rate to a library of data files that measured power output during similar heart rate changes in others.  Unfortunately, when tested side by side with established and proven power meters, the Powercal readings show wide fluctuations.  It’s not anything like dependably consistent, my first requirement for considering a power meter for road cycling enthusiasts.  So, I must rule it, and its attractive $99 price, out.

That means the Powertap hub and Rotor INPower are the only two in the Other Location group I think you should consider.  They each have limitations and would serve different, narrow enthusiast customer bases.  I don’t know that there is any value in choosing a winner between them and will move them both forward to the final round.

RECOMMENDATIONS

If you’ve read everything up to this point, God bless you.  If you came straight to this section, I’ll tell you that five power meters made it through the elimination rounds when compared against over 40 distinct power meter products.  You can scroll back to read the details of those contests or continue forward to see my recap.

The PowerTap P1S bested the lower priced, second place finisher Favero bePRO S and the other the pedal power meters based on the P1S superior performance and design characteristics – its ability to provide consistent readings on the first ride after a transfer to a new bike, its absence of need for mid-ride calibrations that others require, a 0-degree pedal float option, and compatibility with wide forefoot shoes including the popular Shimano S-Works.

The 4iiii Precision won over the Stages and other crank arms on price amidst similar performance.  The Precision doesn’t offer many options outside the world of Shimano cranksets most of us enthusiasts live in.  Stages covers a wider range of crank brands and also makes them for carbon arms so they become the winner if 4iii doesn’t have a solution for you.

Quarq’s Riken and Power2max Type S are essentially equivalent in performance and price among non-Shimano compatible crankset spider power meters.  The Quarq Elsa RS is the only option from these two companies’ lines amongst crank spider meters for Dura Ace, Ultegra and 105 owners.  Unfortunately, the Riken, Elsa and Type S power meters are being replaced by new, unproven models from Quarq and P2M and will not be available after they sell out of current dealer stock, probably by spring or summer of 2017.  The other crank spiders were knocked out for a range of reasons including price or compatibility.

In the ‘other locations’ elimination round among power meters placed in the crankset axle, rear wheel hub, shoes, handlebar mount, and even heart rate strap, PowerTap and Rotor INPower survived my four essential requirements for enthusiast power meters  though each serves a limited customer base.  The others in this group are either unproven or inaccurate and inconsistent.

It was also clear reviewing the 40+ distinct power meters at various stages of development from those that are announced yet not available to ones that are established and proven that the performance of another 5 to 8 will likely be established (good or bad) by the end of 2017 to add to the 20 or so ones that are today.

With all these new units coming, here’s a question you might asking yourself: Should you buy one of the power meters I’m going to recommend below or wait for some of the new ones to see how they compare?

I’ll answer the question this way.  If you want to train with power, you can get in now and get all the performance an enthusiast will ever need at a very good price (from USD$400-$600).  The power meters I recommend below have proven dependably accurate and consistent, compatible to a broad range of enthusiast gear in different combinations, relatively easy to install and transfer on your own, and provide and communicate all the essential data needed for a comprehensive training program that will meet your goals.

Most of the units that I expect will be proven out in the next 12 months will offer capabilities like independent leg measurement or pedaling mechanics that only some elite athletes and their coaches think they need.  Power meters with these capabilities haven’t been shown to be any more consistent than those that double the power measured from a single leg or that measure your total power.  Further, no ongoing training benefit has been shown by using independent or dual leg power measurements or from charting pedaling mechanics for enthusiast level cyclists like you and me.

There are a several announced but not currently available power meters that may be priced below the least expensive proven ones you can buy today.  Perhaps they will make it to the market and prove to be reliable performers and perhaps they won’t.  There are unfortunately many more recent examples of the latter than the former.

I think it’s hard to argue with the prices of proven power meters out there today however, especially considering how much they’ve fallen in the last couple years and how they compare with other things we enthusiasts buy that produce less training or performance benefit and cost more money, unless you are looking for a reason not to train with power.

Among the power meters I ticked through above that won or finished a close second in the elimination rounds, I recommend the following:

Best PerformerQuarq Riken, Elsa R or Elsa RS

While not proving to be any more accurate or consistent than the others, these Quarqs have established themselves as dependable top performers over many years against many competitors.  Between the 3 models, which use the same technology and perform to the same, you can find one that is compatible with most modern cranksets.

For traditionalists, they measure your total power and for new schoolers, they calculate, if not measure, your left and right power.  To be clear, I don’t recommend them those reason but for their long term dependability and broad compatibility.

They take a bit more work than pedal and crank arm power meters to install and transfer but it’s certainly doable for the humble home wrench enthusiast.  The models that will replace them have some added capabilities but even when proven, it’s not obvious that they will add benefits worth waiting for.

Even with their latest price reductions, these Quarqs aren’t the least expensive but they can be had within range of some of the lower priced power meters… at least until they sell out.  I can’t predict when that will be but I will update the online stores with top customer satisfaction ratings that have them in stock at the best prices until they are no longer widely available.

As of January 6, 2017 the best prices at top stores list includes, in the US/CA Competitive Cyclist, ebay Elsa RS, UK/EU ProBikeKit code ITK10, SlaneQuarq dealers are not allowed to sell outside defined geographical regions so if I haven’t listed one in the region where you live, you may want to check with your local bike shop.

If you can’t find them, and don’t have a Shimano or SRAM crankset, the Power2max Type S is an equivalently performing alternative.  They are available direct from Power2max here.

Best Value – 4iiii Precision

At USD$500/£429/€515 for the Shimano Ultegra model, the single sided Precision provides all the performance you need at the best value out there.  Actually, if you are willing to part with your crank for a couple weeks, you can have 4iiii install the Precision on it for even less – USD$400/£320/€378/AUD$542.

Being a crank arm power meter, the Precision is easier to install and transfer than the Quarq – just a couple minutes – is feather-light and will last several months on a charge.  Independent tests have shown it performs with the accuracy and consistency of the Three Wise Men of the power meter world – SRM, PowerTap (hub) and Quarq.

The Precision is compatible with current generation Shimano cranks and can be installed on a few from by other brands.  The Stages power meter is equally good, and only a tad more expensive, sells its power meters on new left cranks arms and works on more of them than 4iiii including carbon as well as alloy ones from Shimano and other brands.

As of January 6, 2017, the 4iiii Precision is available at the best prices from stores customers give very high customer satisfaction ratings to including Power Meter City code ITK10, ProBikeKit code ITK10, Evans Cycles

Best Expandable –

This is an award without a winner yet.  I intended to designate this award so those who want to start training with a power meter that provides everything an enthusiast needs could move down a path to get all the data and analytics one could ever hope for (but not really need) without wasting the money you first spent. (We enthusiasts have standards!)

Despite my self- or, more likely, spouse-imposed budgetary constraints, I am occasionally that guy who wants the cool gear I don’t really need.  We know who we are: notoriously geeky, insatiably analytical, independently wealthy.  Well, at least two out of three in my case.  If you are an enthusiast that’s three for three, I want to offer you an option to take it to the limit, one more time with a Best Expandable power meter.

Note that I don’t call going down this path an “upgrade” as some power meter makers do.  If there’s no known benefit to enthusiasts of buying the right pedal or drive side crank, it’s an upgrade.  An expansion of the data available to you yes, but not an upgrade to the data you already have.

Actually, I hope that someone comes up some real benefit for us enthusiasts of training with all this extra data.  If not, it’s going to be another black mark on the cycling industry for hyping and selling us stuff that’s pretty useless.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a combination of models to put you on that path right now.  There are options, yes, but they either have performance flaws (Vector 2), transfer challenges (bePRO), platform conflicts (Pioneer), don’t yet have an option to get you from A to B (PowerTap P1S to P1), force you to jettison what you first bought to get to the next level (Rotor), haven’t been proven (Precision Pro), or aren’t currently available even though they’ve been announced or are being worked on (too many to mention).

I’m going to leave a light on for this award with the hope that some power meter will emerge in 2017 that deserves it (and that someone will figure out how we enthusiasts can improve our training with all the additional date it brings).  In the meantime, see my answer to the question above about whether you should wait.

BEST PRICE STORE PRODUCT LISTINGS

Here are the product page links to the established and proven power meters at stores that have them at the best prices and also have top customer satisfaction ratings.

Best Performer: Quarq Elsa and Riken – US/CA Competitive CyclistJensonUSA, UK/EU ProBikeKit code ITK10, Slane

Best Value: 4iiii Precision (single) – Power Meter City code ITK10, ProBikeKit code ITK10

Favero bePRO – Power Meter City code ITK10

Garmin Vector 2 – Competitive Cyclist, Power Meter City, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles

Pioneer Power – Competitive Cyclist, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles, ProBikeKit code ITK10, Slane

Polar Look Keo Power – AmazonPolar, Pushys

PowerCal – Clever Training, ProBikeKit ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles

Power2Max Type S – Direct

Powertap P1 – Competitive Cyclist, Power Meter City code ITK10, Wiggle, ProBikeKit ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles

Powertap C1 – Competitive Cyclist, Power Meter City code ITK10, Wiggle, ProBikeKit ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles

PowerTap G3/GS – Competitive Cyclist, Power Meter City code ITK10, WiggleChain Reaction Cycles

Rotor INPower – Power Meter City code ITK10, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles, Westbrook

Stages – US: Direct, UK/EU: Westbrook, Tweeks 

Velocomp PowerPod – Power Meter City code ITK10, ProBikeKit code ITK10,

Verve Infocrank – Power Meter City code ITK10

* * * * *

Thank you for reading.  Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.

If you’ve gotten some benefit from reading this post or any of the reviews on the site, feel free to support In The Know Cycling and save yourself some money at the same time by buying your gear through the store links in red you see in the reviews and right hand column.  I’ve found those stores offer the best prices and customer satisfaction ratings from the nearly 100 online stores I track around the world.  Some also send a small portion of your purchase back that support the creation of new reviews and the gear I buy to do them.  You can also support the site by buying anything at eBay Cycling or Amazon or by making a contribution here.  Thank you.

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Thanks and enjoy the ride!

53 comments

  • I have to say, you really outdid yourself this time! Great piece of work!

  • Thanks jwilli. There’s a lot going on here and a lot of opportunities to get it wrong (or overpay). The improvement you can make training with a power meter is so great, it’s really worth it to get one. Steve

  • Hi Steve,
    Great Review!
    Recently pulled the trigger on P1 pedals (were 20% off holiday sale) mainly because of it’s versatility, accuracy, brand reputation and good reviews across the board including this post, not to mention it’s convenience for training while travelling (plugging P1s on gym spinning bikes) . I wanted to start training right away with power with my current bike and had in mind to buy a new aero bike on 2017, so you get a PM that works with multiple bikes for the price of 1 without worrying about cranksets, BB, etc. Also I put in the equation that I”ll save the cost of buying pedals for new bike.

    I was a bit skeptical at the beginning about the weight of the P1’s (420gr)…..as an enthusiast rider, it’s something I need to worry about?

    Can you clarify Pro / Cons of a 0 degree cleat?

    Cheers!

    • Isaac, I don’t think the weight is big deal for enthusiasts. Note that 420g is the total weight of pedals w/power meters. The net added weight from the power meter alone is only about 165 grams. I’d rather not have to turn that weight but the biggest effect will be to make it more work when you accelerate. Underway, you won’t notice. And with the length of the cranks being relatively short versus the distance from the hub to the rim (for those of you thinking about rotating weight), the “moment arm” is short requiring less torque than if the same amount of extra weight was in your rims. At least, that’s what I remember from physics (it’s been a while). As I mentioned in the post, I’ve never seen this topic explored in a review and I haven’t heard back from PowerTap since I asked them about it.

      A 0 degree cleat basically means your foot isn’t going to “float” left and right from the point where it attaches to the pedal. The standard KeO cleat is 6 degrees. If one of your feat has a tendency to float, likely just out or in, it can mess up your hip alignment and screw up the muscles around your upper leg and hip. A fitter will notice this, align your pedal and get you a 0 degree to combat the float to keep you in better alignment. Steve

      • Hi Steve,
        Clever training didn´t shipped yet my P1 Pedals, means I have a chance to retract,
        Should I stick with those, or should go with Stages or other option? (considering I”ll need to buy another PM for a future bike with different crankset/BB).
        Do you think battery life it´s an issue (60hrs)?
        Thanks

        • Isaac, If you want pedals and dual sided, P1 is my recommendation. If you want best value and still getting all the performance you need, go with 4iiii Precision. If they don’t have crankset you need, check Stages. If you plan to run different cranksets on different bikes, go back to P1. You don’t need to/shouldn’t have to buy “another PM for a future bike.” That’s what’s transferability is all about.

          And, if you want to support the site, retract from Clever and order through one of the links provided above, a couple which provide you 10% off your purchase amount exclusively to In The Know Cycling readers with code ITK10.

          Thanks,
          Steve

          • Thanks!
            Steve, which app or program let you compare power readings from 2 different devices, let’s say my KICKR vs P1 pedals, to see if power is consistent/accurate during the same training session or ride,
            Thanks

          • Isaac, You’re wearing me out 🙂 Put another coin in the meter. Golden Cheetah will read and compare the input from the head units that read your power meters. Steve

  • thanks steve. neat report with lots of good info. unfortunately, you will have to be pretty busy to keep up with the developing power meter field. so busy, in fact, you may not have time for other reviews. i can imagine this subject alone will keep you on your toes for years!

  • I’m sorry to say but this article is a fail.

    Why do you still mention Garmin Vector when the Vector 2 is the current version? Also, the mid-ride back pedal calibration was long gone by firmware update.

    For power meter review, there is only one website you need. DCR.

    • s4t1sfy, Thanks for your feedback. Sorry this post didn’t work for you. I also find DCR to be a great source of test information and updates on power meter technology.

      Regarding your specific points about the Garmin power meters, I was using the term “Vector” generically. There have been a few model iterations and numerous firmware updates with of course the 2 and 2S being the latest versions. I see these as improvements on the current design but not major changes like the Quarqs are going through from Riken and Elsa to DZero. Sloppy on my part however. I’ll review my point about calibration too.

      If you’ve got a Vector 2 I hope yours is working well but so many have had dependability issues with them and continue to find the installation a challenge that I encourage people to choose the other pedal or power meter options I’ve recommended. Steve

      • My Vector 2s are working just fine as well. The power spikes during hard efforts were fixed long ago in firmware, so it seems to me like you are curating an opinion based on old third-party anecdotes. All power meters will occasionally blip anomalous readings. As the earlier commenter mentioned, midride calibration isn’t even needed or implemented anymore. It does temperature compensation on its own. As well, though the torque spec is offiicially 40 Newton-meters, the reality is you can get away with about 30 and still have accurate readings.

  • Good evening Steve,
    You always provide great insight with supporting logic and a nice balance of common sense and practicality!! I hope to make the leap to a power meter (4iiii for Christmas from the Mrs. maybe), but was wondering if you have any recommendations for the best bike computer to match it with. My current bike computer does all the basics, including heart monitoring, elevation change and data download, but will not link to a power meter. You commented in the article about Garmin and Pioneer and seem to acknowledge that Garmin is the brand of choice, but there are many Garmin models to choose from. I suspect the most expensive would be great, but I always value your balance of cost to achieve real benefits without bells and whistles that don’t add to performance. Do you have a preference for the road enthusiast? Edge 810, 520, or is that more than is needed? I am riding a Giant Defy Advanced and will use the Ridesense sensor for speed and cadence.
    Thank you!
    Joe

    • Hi Joe. I’ve used and like the Garmin Edge 520. The 810 was replaced this summer by the 820. The two have the same screen size but the 820 has a touch screen whereas the 520 uses buttons along the sides and bottom which I sometime find annoying depending on what else I’ve got crowding my bars like lights or on my hands like gloves. The 820 has some additional functionality that I don’t find I need but for an extra $100 I’d have gone with the 820 for the touch screen if it was available when I bought the 520. The one thing I don’t like about the Edge units is the way they waste space on the display screen and have smaller sized readings than than I’d like because of it.

      I’ve also used the Wahoo Reflect+ and the Powertap Joule extensively. I find the Edge 520 surpasses in both functionality (e.g. GPS) and ease of use. I’m planning to pick up a Wahoo Element. I’ve read it works as well as the 520 and you can make the numbers much larger than on the Garmin. As you can see from my comments, I haven’t reviewed this category so there are likely more considered views out there than mine. Cheers, Steve

  • You’ve given me a lot of information and a lot to think about. Thank you.

  • Hi Steve- First of all, thanks for all your work. I bought the stages DuraAce power meter and have paired with the Garmin 520. However when I have the Garmin mounted in the middle of the handlebars the Stages seems to either not send data or the data that it sends its clearly not accurately. I have moved the Garmin to the left side of the bars and it works a lot better. Do you know anything about this issue? I would really like to have the garmin mounted in the middle as opposed to the left side of the handlebar. Thanks
    -Will

    • Will, Sounds like a weak signal or something in the way though it should work either way. I use that combination on one of my bikes and have never had an issue. I’d make sure you have the latest software/firmware updates for each to remove any consideration there. Try dropping in a new battery to the Stages. Then call Stages. They are very good with service will probably have a solution or replace the unit if they dont. Steve

    • Will, sorry to hear about your troubles. I’ve seen others mention this issue in the comments section of one or two reviews on DCRainmaker. On the flip side, I have a Garmin 520 and riding ~8 times a week for 6 weeks now with Stages PM on my Ultegra crankset. My 520 is using out-front mount, on the right side of bars, and haven’t had a single connectivity issue. I agree with Steve, give Stages a call.

  • Thanks Steve for the great post… I really appreciate the education…

    Curt >

  • Great article Steve. So hey, I’m your poster child of “you shouldn’t have to go through this?” LOL.

    Two reasons I spent $80 more on Stages vs 4iiii – maturity and temperature compensation. Simply put, Stages is more mature and you can see that by looking at a) time in market, and b) lower number of recent firmware updates. I was a little curious why you spent time discussing accuracy/performance, and then dismissed 4iiii lack of temperature compensation with a “do some mid-ride recalibration.” Yeah right, like thats going to happen 😉 Honestly, from my small survey sample, fellow riders have a hard enough time remembering to calibrate at the beginning of every ride, let alone mid ride. From where I sit, Stages ranks first on overall power meter value, and then honorable mention to 4iiii as budget play (for me it cost 14% less) with a caveat on accuracy.

    Maybe I’m living in a geographic anomaly – Northern California – as large temp swings are pretty common especially if you are a busy cycling enthusiast squeezing rides into the beginning and end of day. For example yesterday I rode 40 miles with LBS, started ride at 39 degrees and ended the ride at 55 degrees, pretty typical for winter morning rides in these parts. And in the summer I often start an evening ride when its close to 100 degrees, then the delta breeze kicks in and by the end of the ride it can be in the 80s and sometimes all the way down to 60. When you live inland, 10-30 degree swings at the end of day are pretty common, thats why the wine grapes like it so much here 🙂 Even when I lived in the Bay Area it would go from 80s during the day to upper 50s by 7pm.

    I looked really hard at Quarq, however for my Trek Domane (BB90) the cost was >$1000 and required new bottom bracket bearings – the Quarq’s GXP spindle is stepped 24mm (drive side) and 22mm (versus straight 24mm for Shimano), so at a minimum that means picking up new bearings for non-drive side. And while I’m handy with a torque wrench, a couple of friends cautioned me to leave servicing of bottom bracket to my LBS unless I took time to learn the ins and outs. By comparison, installing or moving the Stages crank arm is easy. Even if you remove installation from the equation, Spider power meters are a more disruptive install and requires understanding compatibility including chain rings.

    • 2, Thanks for sharing your experience looking at different power meters and for being my “poster child”. My heart really went out to you when I read your comment and appreciate you being a good sport about sharing your tale with others.

      You make some good points in support of Stages. As you know, I recommended Stages in my previous review when there were about a third as many options. I don’t think however that most enthusiasts have such wide temperature swings during the average 2 hour ride so that’s why I picked the 4iiii as a better value that still has accurate and consistent performance.

      If you do a 2 hour ride with the temp swings you experience, I agree it might be worth the extra money to get a Stages if you aren’t inclined to do recalibrate mid-ride. On longer rides, you’ll usually take a break for a coffee or food so it shouldn’t be too much to ask of yourself to do a recalibration coming out of one of those stops at the same time you take off or put on an extra layer. I imaging that 4ii will update their firmware before long, perhaps eliminating the need to recalibrate but I have no inside info about what their plan is.

      Depending on what crank you are putting the Precision on (e.g. 105 vs Dura Ace) and who you are buying it from (see the 10% discount code Power Meter City is offering to you as readers of this site), it can be a pretty big saving over the Stages which sells direct in the US at their regular prices. So the Precision can be a great value for similar performance if you are willing to recalibrate after big temp swings.

      Regarding the Quarq, I agree it can be more work to set up and transfer but it’s an incredibly solid and consistent performer. You talk about “maturity” or the experience a company gains and can build in to make their products dependable and work in all kinds of situations. Stages certainly has learned a lot over the added years they’ve been in the market than 4iiii and it shows in latest design. Well Quarq has several times the maturity of Stages.

      Then, of course, if you don’t even take the 15 seconds to do the pre-ride calibration that, I agree too many don’t do with whatever power meter they have when you are putting your gloves on, heck, you just as well might go out and get a Powercal heart strap power monitor for <$100 rather than fool yourself that your power numbers really matter. 

      Cheers,
      Steve

      • I’m an engineer – hence taking my time to research the market for power meters LOL. Agree with you about Quarq, really wanted to justify the purchase but still need aero wheels so it was pretty easy at the end of the analysis to spend 50+% less (Elsa RS plus SRAM GXP 22mm bearings) and put the Stages on my Trek Domane. Northern California riding routinely sees big temp swings most months of the year, so the lack of temp compensation on the 4iiii knocked it out of consideration.

        Looking forward to this Spring and hoping the new Stages training platform (Dash/Link/PowerMeter) delivers on the promise to raise the bar on training platforms. There are a number of annoyances with Garmin Edge (e.g. routes), hoping the competition either convinces me to move or is a catalyst for Garmin to step up their game. Stages isn’t promising anything other than a vague ‘turn by turn from your phone’ so we’ll see if they deliver something better than going to RideWithGPS, exporting TCX with 100m before turn notifications (paid accounts only), downloading a route to my computer, connecting Edge, and manually adding to NewFiles. Not to mention the inevitable 520 slow down if you don’t periodically clean out history.

  • Steve,
    I have Garmin Vector 2 and have had them for over 18 months. I use them on a number of bikes with different cranks. Shimano Ultegra, Rotor 3D, and Cannondale SiSl2. I have ridden approx 11,000 miles with these swapping them frequently.

    They take about 5 minutes to swap between bikes.
    They do not need a number of rides start reading consistently. They do so from installation.
    The only real disadvantage is the need for a decent torque wrench when you travel with the bike.

    I do think this is the most misleading review of yours I have read.

    A pity – I used to think your reviews were quite good.

    Nick

    • Nick, Always trying to reach a new low in misleading readers. Sounds like I’ve done it for you with this post. 🙂

      You and s4t1sfy are both right that the Vector 2 doesn’t need mid-ride or so called dynamic calibration as earlier versions of the last generation Vector did. Thanks for pointing this out. I carried this misinformation from my earlier power meter review but have fixed it now in this post.

      I’m glad you are happy with your Vector 2s. Other users and testers continue to report issues with the new Vector 2 including drop-outs, over-reading power levels in interval or sprint situations, the time it takes for the pods to acclimatize to temperature changes when you take your bike outside your home and the time it takes to transfer the pedals from one bike to another. You are the first person I’ve heard that can crack anywhere near 10 minutes to transfer these power meters.

      If they are working for you and you believe in them, that’s great. Unfortunately for Garmin, everyone hasn’t had the same experience. If someone is looking to buy a new power meter now, the tech and performance issues that riders are still experiencing, the over-abundance of data, and the price, all relative to other power meters that you can buy makes it relatively easy for me to confidently recommend other pedal and non pedal power meters over the Vector 2.

      Thanks,
      Steve

      • I think the most time consuming part of installing Vector 2s is cleaning the rubber inserts on the antenna pods with alcohol if you don’t want them to rotate around the spindle. If you don’t care about that, you can easily take the pedals off and reinstall them on another bike within 10 minutes. I normally like your reviews, but it seems like you are being very critical of the product based on anecdotes rather than personal experience.

        • Eugene, As a fellow road cycling enthusiast, I’d be a fool (or more of a fool) and full of myself to depend solely on my own experience testing product to rate them. That’s why I do depend on input from other “independent reviewers and users who are willing to buy into the bleeding edge of technology and report their experience in reviews and the comments that go with them.” That’s a quote from this post in the section called WHICH POWER METERS ARE THE BEST FOR ROAD CYCLING ENTHUSIASTS.

          I noted in my response to the commenters above that I have corrected the post to reflect the performance of the Vector2. I welcome and value your input along with others but will note that it still takes longer to put the Vector 2 pedals on than the P1 or bePro if you want to set them up to get consistent readings, that Garmin does advise you tighten them to 40NM, that those comparing multiple power meters find the Vector2 less consistent if you don’t tighten to that spec, and that many continue to find “blips” and spikes with the Vector 2 that they don’t with others. I realize these and other characteristics of the Vector2 (rotating antenna pods?) may be acceptable to some but, without having any allegiance to one or another power meter, I’m merely pointing out these characteristics and telling you why I rate the Vector2 lower than other power meters because of them. Steve

    • I think the Vector is a good system if you 1) are already using Keo Look Pedals 2) Need to swap between 2 or more bikes.

      I was an early adopter for the vector and had to put up with nearly 6 months of crap firmware updates from Garmin. I eventually sold mine (so I could switch to speed play pedals) and bought the Quarq Dfour.

  • michaelmcleish1990

    Woah. I wasn’t too sure about power meters before, but now I feel like I’ve got a PhD in them! Thanks Steve

  • Hello Steve

    You must correct the probikekit max discount in the home page. It is 50usd / 60aud and probably different for the other currencies too.

    • pk, Thanks for bringing this to my attention. PBK took down the code for the Black Friday to Cyber Monday period so there may have been a mix-up when they re-established it. I’ve asked if they can go back to the older (larger discount) amounts. Will let you and everyone else know. Steve

      • pk, Finally got this sorted out and the new max discounts with the exclusive code ITK10 for In The Know Cycling readers are US-$55, CA-$75, GB-£45, EU-€50, AU-$75, NZ-$80. So for you in the AU it’s now $75 vs the $80 that it used to be but no longer the $60 that it was when you tried it a week or so ago. The final revision is due to the weaker pound; the earlier revision was due to an error. Chapeau to your for pointing this out originally. Enjoy the added savings. Steve

  • “Using the popular Shimano Dura Ace or Ultegra 11 speed crank sets as reference points, you will be looking at a list price of US$779/£693/€779 for the DZero spider without arms.”

    Steve, price is actually higher as you can’t use DZero (5 bolt) with Shimano 11-speed (4 bolt) crank sets. The DFour list price is $1179 and must be paired with a compatible SRAM bottom bracket (additional $):
    http://www.quarq.com/pages/quarq-dzero-platform

    Also, if you have Shimano 11-speed and are looking for a closeout deal on Quarq Elsa or Riken, your only choice is the Elsa RS and SRAM compatible bottom bracket:
    http://www.quarq.com/pages/getting-started/choosing-power-meter/

    Pulling up your Competitive Cyclist link, cost is slightly higher than DFour at $1189. Google shopping search turns up a lot of higher prices. I’ve been looking and haven’t been able to find Elsa RS for less than DFour since the DZero platform was announced in late August.

    • Right. DFour is the Shimano model off the DZero platform. Note that I don’t have the new Quarqs in the “established and proven” category yet so aren’t including these in the review. Elsa RS fit 11 speed Shimanos and Elsa R fits some 10 speed ones. All are more expensive than your Stages. Now that you have one, you can stop analyzing everything and get on with training! Else you’ll become the “poster child” for that road cycling over-analyst post I’ve been thinking about writing 🙂

      • ha ha, just a ITK/Steve fan trying to help you help others. For drop-in spider replacement on mainstream 11 speed Shimano crankset, the only prices in your Spider PM section are misleading ($600-800, 779) because its actually $1179+ for Quarq Elsa RS or DFour (plus compatible bb). A lot bigger price difference than 4iiii vs Stages, and puts the Spider PMs in same range as Pedal PMs from PowerTap/Garmin.

  • I had Stages but ditched it because they. (Yes I did get the next gen, new seals, new caps etc.)
    I had Powertap P1 but ditched them because the batteries don’t lastvlong enough, the battery covers are badly designed and the battery warnings were unpredictable.

    I now have Verve Infocrank and love it. Especially with an oval chainring.

  • Steve, have you heard anything from Precision on regards implementing temperature balance via firmwire? I hate the idea of stopping the ride to recalibrate the PM, but their price is considerably lower than stages (my initial option)

    Thanks

    • Carlos, I checked in with 4iiii support and checked back with my sources on your question. Bottom line, you don’t need to do a mid-ride calibration with the Precision power meter. I have edited the review to address this.

      The background is as follows. Unlike most power meters that have pushed out temperature compensation firmware updates, 4iiii began building their units in the 2nd half of 2015 to work at the same level of accuracy over a claimed 50C temperature range. They haven’t found that additional temperature compensation is necessary and aren’t working on any firmware updates. I had to go several rounds of specific questions to get this out of them but that’s where it came out. I prefer to talk with customer support on these types of questions rather than product or marketing managers to avoid any spin.

      Not willing to go merely on what a company claims, I also checked back with the testers I trust who run multiple power meters on their bikes at the same time to assess accuracy and consistency over time and in different riding and environmental situations. All have seen in their date the 4iiii track the other power meters (or vice versa) regardless of temperature swings but didn’t make specific mention of this in their reviews.

      One additional tester did recommend mid-ride updates but that was due to what had been suggested to him by someone at the company before they had started shipping the units with the built-in compensation. Since no firmware update had come since, this tester wrongly assumed that temperature compensation had not been addressed and I wrongly assumed the same and that’s why initially recommended mid-ride calibration.

      So, thanks for you question. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you and to the bottom of this but I’m confident now that you can ride the 4iiii Precision with confidence that it will maintain it’s accuracy and consistency on rides when you may have very wide temperature swings. I do recommend you do a zero-offset at the beginning of every ride with every power meter … and that you layer up for rides with wide temp swings:).

      Steve

      • Steve, that’s perfect thank you! Just bought the 4iiii pm.

        Thanks for the discount coupon and for the amazing reviews. I will let you know how it goes with the 4iii and hope it improves my ftp! 🙂

        Btw, wheels, helmet and pm… what else will you help me to buy? Hahhaa

        Happy holidays!

  • Hi Steve
    love your impressively comprehensive and inquisitive reviews. great source of objective knowledge for amateurs like me ! Much appreciated, keep it up 🙂
    Question about Stages. Having read your Power Meter Buyers Guide I felt in love with simple, inexpensive and supposedly reliable option of Stages. To the point of having ordered one from a local dealer to work with my Edge 820. However in the meantime I have read a river of user complaints about very common signal dropouts with Edge 820 in either on or front-bar position. This made me rethink. The problem reports were old but really fresh as well signalling that the signal drop-out issues have not been removed with firmware updates. Are you aware of the scale of this issue ? Is this something to be concerned with ?
    Thanks for your view
    michal

    • Michal, You are only the second person I’ve heard this from but I’ve not been out looking for it. Sounds like a communication issue between the two that should get worked out. The 820 is the newer of the two devices (spring/summer 2016). I’ve used a Stages with a 520 for about 18 months without an issue. Both of their customer service groups are very responsive. If you are having an issue, I’d put a call into each and see what solution they’ve got. Steve

      • I just today set up my indoor trainer with the Garmin 820 vs my older 800 and it did not readily recognize the Stages power meter for cadence or power.The Garmin 800 registered fine cadence and power without problems. I will be checking with Garmin to see about the issue. I had upgraded to the latest firmware 5.20 before testing the 820.

        • photosbywtg, yes, it appears that Garmin is having a range of issues, including the one you are having, with many of the 820s. Steve

          • I have reset my Ant+ sensors and now the 820 connected flawlessly after upgrading to firmware 5.20. I ran all my metrics on the trainer and they registered seemlessly as if I was outside. I have to say I am pleased with the connection between my Stages power/cadence meter and the Garmin heart rate monitor and speed sensor.
            Just another data point in all the noise….

  • As usual a most magnificent review and a resource for future purchases.
    I must mention that due to a previous Achilles rupture, I have a 6+% variation in power left vs right. I have had a Stages power meter for the last year and put it on the weaker side. It has worked flawlessly, sync’ed well with my Garmin, and exhibited remarkable battery life.
    I did obtain it through my local Specialized shop at one of their sales events for significantly less than retail (like <$400), making it cheaper than the 4iii. At the time I purchased it one year ago, it was the only affordable option for the Specialized Roubaix.

    Thanks again for a remarkably in-depth and practical guide for us enthusiasts!! I look forward to more guidance when I need to replace my current power meter.

  • Hi Steve, a quick here.
    In case money wasn´t an issue, if I need to choose between the P1 pedals and Stages(Ultegra), which way would you go? I got the P1 with 20%discount for $1,000 vs $600 Stages (LBS). I went for P1 because of convenience and established name, but it´s worth the $400 extra?

    I´m asking since I still can return the P1s,

    Thanks

    • Hi,
      A point to note about the p1 is that the power meter is built into the pedal body. I’d this is worn or damaged I think you have to replace it. The garmin by contrast has the power meter built into the spindle. Damage or wear to the pedal body can be rectified reasonably cheaply with replacement pedal bodies keeping the spindles.

      Just a thought.
      Nick

    • Isaac, As you can see in my review, I don’t recommend the P1 unless you want a pedal power meter and even with that don’t think you need more than the P1S. Steve

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